mHealth Summit 2012: Smartphone system a 'game changer' for cancer diagnosis

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Massachusetts General Hospital has developed the world's smallest cancer diagnostic system, leveraging a smartphone that has proven to be "game changing technology" for the detection and spot diagnosis of the disease, according to Roderic Pettigrew (pictured), director of the National Institute of Health's National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. 

Pettigrew, who moderated a panel yesterday at the mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C., on the "State of the Science in Research on Mobile Health Technologies," told the audience that in a recent clinical study, the mobile-enabled diagnostic magnetic resonance had an accuracy that was more than 12 percentage points higher than the conventional "gold standard" of biopsy. DMR had an accuracy rate of 96 percent compared to 84 percent for biopsy. Developed by scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital's Center for Systems Biology, the handheld DMR device was evaluated in a clinical trial of 70 patients with suspected abdominal malignancy.

"We were driven to develop this device by two factors: 1) the exquisite sensitivity of magnetic resonance techniques like MRI and 2) the desire to detect cancer in very small cell samples," Jered B. Haun, PhD, one of the researchers, told FierceMobileHealthcare in an email last year. 

The patients in the study underwent a biopsy in addition to a minimally invasive procedure known as fine needle aspiration, a mini biopsy that collects cells rather than tissue. Specimens collected from biopsies were sent to a lab for standard diagnostic testing, while the aspirates were run through the DMR system in what Pettigrew described as a "chemistry lab on a chip." Not only did the DMR provide more accurate cancer diagnosis, but it arrived at its results quicker by enabling quantification of multiple protein markers within an hour instead of three days.

"This smartphone-enabled technology is superior technology [to standard diagnostic procedures] and is an example of the type of rigorous evaluation that we need to establish the real value for these mobile and wireless tools," Pettigrew said.

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